As the clamour for the release of political leaders grows louder, families of those picked up in Kashmir ahead of August 5 last year have become increasingly despondent about their return.
As per reports of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, 412 people were charged with the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows preventive custody for two years without trial or charges. The move happened after August 5, 2019, the day Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories (UTs). A majority of the political prisoners have been moved to jails outside the region.
Ghulam Rasool Pandit, a resident of Karimabad village in Southern Pulwama told NewsClick that their sons were not important since they had no political purpose to serve. “Who will talk about our sons? Everyone talks about the leaders. They (leaders) would help them conduct elections. What would our innocent sons give them? Whether they are released or not depends on their (the Government) will,” he added.
Ghulam’s son, 18-year-old Mamoom Pandit, was picked up by the armed forces from his home in the intervening night of August 4 and 5 last year. He is lodged at Bareilly Central Jail in Uttar Pradesh. “We do not know why he was picked up. There is no FIR registered against him. He was not involved in any case. God knows why they are delaying his release,” said Ghulam.
A few meters away, Rubeena accused the government of ignoring their plight by delaying the release of common Kashmiris. “Everyone is talking about the release of Chief Ministers. No one is talking about these innocent kids. There are administrators in Kashmir but are they talking about them?” she asked. Her son, Meneer Ul Islam, was picked up by a joint team of army and police forces on August 4 from his home.
The families of various detainees lamented that the silence over the imprisonment of their members has plunged them into despair. They mentioned that they are unable to fathom the reasons behind withholding their release as the situation on the ground has improved to a great extent. “The internet is working, public transport is on the roads and schools are functioning normally. Why are our sons behind bars?” a family member asked.
After a suspension of almost seven months, the Government lifted the ban on social media networking sites and on 2G-Internet services last month. Schools and colleges, which remained shut after August 5, opened after the two-month winter break in the Valley. However, there is no news about the release of common Kashmiri prisoners who are being held away from their homes and in different parts of the country.
Since most of those arrested belong to low-income groups, their families are finding it hard to meet the travel expenses required to visit their imprisoned family members.
“A half an hour meeting costs us more than Rs 25,000,” said Zahida, the sister of Fayaz Ahmad, at her home in the Pahoo area of Pulwama. “He was the sole bread winner in our family. My father has been bed-ridden for several years now,” she added. Twenty-seven-year-old Fayaz was picked up by armed forces from his home on August 3, and is currently lodged in a jail in Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli.
Fayaz was pursuing his PhD in Arabic, having completed his Masters from the University of Kashmir. According to Zahida, Fayaz was "just keeping himself busy with a tractor which he bought after taking a loan from the bank.”
The tractor which their son had bought to improve their economic condition is adding to their misery. “The tractor is parked outside our home and we have to pay Rs 8,000 monthly to the guarantor to retain its possession,” Zahida said.
Aside from travel costs, families also suffered huge losses due to the absence of bread winners. Shamim Ahmed, a 38-year-old pea-seller was arrested ahead of Eid–ul Adha. Muslims celebrate this festival by sacrificing a goat, sheep or camel to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah. It is a time when the demand for sacrificial animals increase.
Expecting good business during the period, Shamim made an advance payment for about 64 sheep. “The truck ferrying the sheep was stuck on the highway due to it being blocked, resulting in the death of 22 animals. To save further losses we pleaded in front of the police officer to delay his arrest for some days but they (police) were not bothered about our losses,” Shamim’s cousin, Shaheena told NewsClick at Ratnipora.
The family suffered a loss of almost Rs 3 lakh and are struggling to even pay their son a visit in jail. “A visit costs between Rs 10,000- 20,000. Where will a labourer get that money from? No one is listening to our problems. We raised the issue before the local Member of Parliament, Hasnain Masoodi, but nothing happened,” she said.
Back in Karimabad, Abdul Rahman Dar and his wife, Jana, are clueless about debates around the release of prisoners in the Valley. They only want the return of their son. “We have less access to information. We didn’t even know whether anyone talks about the release of our child or not. We have not seen him for the last seven months and only want to see him,” said Abdul Rahmad Dar. His son, Bilal Ahmad Dar, was picked up ahead of August 5, 2019, from his home and his parents have been unable to visit him due to their poor health.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir.